On Friday evening, I finished the first draft of a novel. My 20th finished novel since 1997! I’m a little staggered by that. (For one thing, you’d think it would be easier by now.)
Now, that’s not twenty published novels. There are some trunk books in there, and a book that’s still out on submission (I have hopes it’ll see print someday.)
I thought I’d do a little walk down memory lane. This’ll be self-indulgent. Skip if you like.
- Shannon’s God. I wrote this in the summer of 1997, after my sophomore year of college. It was my first attempt to write a novel since some failures in high school. It’s a contemporary fantasy about a woman in college who begins to see monsters, and meets a man who claims to be God. I finished the thing, miraculously, and there are still elements I like about it, but it’s pretty broken. It should have been a short story. It did feature an assassin named Walker, who was a sort of prototype for my later character Mr. Zealand.
- Raveling. I wrote this in 1998, and it was insanely ambitious, way beyond my capabilities back then, a multi-viewpoint novel about a dark god returning to the world and the efforts of his half-human daughters to prevent him from destroying reality. Again, it had some good bits, but wow, was it a mess. A total structural disaster.
- Infants and Tyrants, or, Kootchie-Kootchie-Coup. Written over Christmas break in 1998 — took me only three weeks! It’s a superhero novel, set in the 1950s, in the same universe as my stories “Captain Fantasy and the Secret Masters” and “Dr. Nefarious and the Lazarus Project.” It concerns a child born with superhuman intelligence and telekinesis… but all the absolute self-centeredness of any six-month-old. (Good villain, huh?) It’s mostly about his mom discovering her own powers to alter reality to stop her son from conquering the world. It sucks. I kept it as backstory for the later stories set in that world, though…
- The Genius of Deceit. Written in September 1999, immediately after Clarion. (My attempt to avoid a post-Clarion writing slump: writing a 96,000 word novel in a single month, destroying any chance for writer’s block to get a grip on me. Well, it worked!) It’s a contemporary fantasy about the tenth incarnation of Vishnu, destined to save the world… but he’s beset by demons who are doing their best to drive him insane before he realizes his own power. The main character was an Indian American woman who may or may not be an avatar of Lakshmi. It has some awesome scenes… and some hideous issues with cultural appropriation I was too dumb to recognize at the time. (Making the incarnation of Vishnu a whiny white kid was maybe a mistake.) It does kind of work as a novel, though it’s not good enough to publish. I tried rewriting it as a YA, but without any success.
- The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl, written mostly in 2000-2001, largely in Cafe Pergolesi around the corner from my house in Santa Cruz. (Before that I tried to write a Marla Mason novel called Ferocious Dreamers, but it went off the rails 60,000 words in. I did pillage bits of it for later books though.) My weird Western novel, and my love song to Santa Cruz, and my debut novel, and the fifth book I ever finished. (I’m a slow learner.)
- Blood Engines, written in 2003 and 2004, mostly. The first Marla Mason novel, intended to be a standalone, and not the start of a series. I sold it while I was at the Blue Heaven workshop in 2006, along with a then-unwritten sequel.
- Briarpatch, which back then was called The Light of a Better World, written 2005/6 in Oakland. Took me a while to sell that one — or even to try to sell it, for tedious contractual reasons. But a mere five years after finishing it, it saw print last year. Probably my most ambitious book, and I think one of my more successful. Bridges! Alternate worlds! People who turn into bears! Magical cars!
- Poison Sleep, written in 2006. The second Marla novel, and the one where I really started thinking of it in terms of an ongoing series.
- Dead Reign, written in 2007. (Oh, for those bygone days of writing one book a year. And I had no kid! What did I do with all that free time?) Sold as part of another two-book deal to Bantam, which also included…
- Spell Games, written in 2007/8. Originally had the much better title Grift Sense, but Random House had published another novel with that title some years before, so I couldn’t use it. The fourth Marla novel, and the last one from a major publisher. After that, my career cratered, I got dumped by Random House, etc. And yet, somehow, I kept on working…
- The Nex, 2008. My first attempt at a book for kids, a gonzo science-fantasy adventure set in the world of my story “Dream Engine.” Nobody wanted to publish it, but I still liked it, so I later self-published it as an e-book and serialized it online. By far my least-read novel, alas.
- Bone Shop, 2009. Meant to be a novella, this prequel to the Marla Mason series eventually edged well into short-novel territory. This was my first attempt at a reader-funded serialization, and it worked out extremely well, giving me the confidence to write…
- Broken Mirrors, 2010, the fifth full-length Marla book, resolving the cliffhangers from Spell Games. Also serialized, and self-published as an e-book. Including royalties from e-book sales, audio sales, etc., it’s been as lucrative financially for me as the ones I published with Random House.
- Pseudonymous novel #1, 2010. A work-for-hire book, based on an idea by the publisher. Appeared later that year. Got better reviews than most of my books under my own name. Sigh.
- Venom In Her Veins, 2010. Also a work-for-hire book, a roleplaying game tie-in set in the world of Forgotten Realms, but this one’s under my own name, and was vast quantities of fun. It’s about insane subterranean monsters, a trade princess who’s wickedly good with a bow, addictive flowers, and other weird wonders. Coming out in March 2012.
- The Deep Woods, 2010. My second attempt at a middle-grade novel, this one about creatures from Celtic folklore (mostly), a Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game, and the power of friendship (which is maybe just slightly weaker than the power of iron-toothed giants). I wrote this one in 18 days, because after two work-for-hire books in a row, I wanted to write something that was utterly and entirely for me… but I didn’t have much time. So, yeah, 2010 was a four-book year, but Deep Woods is only about 45000 words long. It’s still out on submission. Somebody buy it, please?
- Pseudonymous novel #2, 2011. Work-for-hire again, published in late 2011, also to pretty good reviews, and I love the main character. And the narrator. Who is a different character.
- City of the Fallen Sky, 2011. Another RPG tie-in, this one set in the world of Pathfinder Tales. It’s about an alchemist/artificer who gets roped into going on a dangerous expedition to the legendary ruined flying city of Kho… all while being pursued by a relentless thug who wants to retrieve the things our hero stole on a previous expedition. Coming out in May 2012.
- Grim Tides, 2011. The sixth full-length Marla Mason novel, currently being serialized. This whole alternative-publishing-model thing seems to be working out for me.
- Pseudonymous novel #3, 2011/12. (This is the one I finished on Friday.) This book actually is an original novel, based on my own idea, and not work-for-hire, but the publisher wanted to put it out under a pseudonym. I can probably claim it as my own a while after it’s published. 2011 wasn’t quite a four-book year, but it was a near thing.
So what’s next? I’ve got another work-for-hire book due this summer, but I can’t announce it yet. (It’ll be under my own name.) I also plan to write a contemporary fantasy novel, Heirs of Grace, for my own amusement. I’ve got a proposal for an epic(ish) fantasy novel called The Emperor of Owls, which I may just write even without selling it, because I’m excited about the characters and the world. And if there’s interest, I could do another Marla Mason novel for next year, assuming my readers want to support me again.
In other words… I expect I’ll keep busy. I’m fortunate this year in that I sold an anthology with my friend Melissa Marr, and that’s bringing in enough money that I don’t have to hustle up quite as much work as usual. That means I can write some spec books that may never sell. I’ve enjoyed all the work-for-hire stuff, actually, and a couple of them are among my very best books, but there’s something to be said for writing books that don’t have any deadlines or expectations attached. Like the old days, before I succeeded (and then failed, and then kept going anyway) as a novelist.